Enforce regulations on mercury use - Researcher urges govt
It has emerged that 81 tonnes (81,000 kilogrammes) of mercury is released into the local system annually, out of which 80 per cent is used in illegal mining for amalgamation.
The situation was worrying because research had established that mercury exposure had dire health consequences for illegal miners, residents of mining communities and members of the public who consumed fish contaminated by the metal.
A Researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Ghana, Prof. Richmond Aryeetey, has consequently advised the government to put in tighter measures to regulate the inflow and use of mercury in the country.
Particularly, he said stricter enforcement measures must be implemented to curb the smuggling of mercury for illegal mining activities in the country.
Prof. Aryeetey stated this in a lecture delivered at the sixth Biennial Public Lecture organised by the College of Health Sciences of the University of Ghana in Accra on September 27.
The lecture was on the theme: “Environmental and health impact of galamsey: the real cost of that gold,” and it formed part of activities marking the 75th anniversary celebration of the University of Ghana.
The two speakers at the event explored the link between galamsey and non-communicable diseases, as well as the galamsey menace in Ghana and its effects on infectious diseases.
Present at the event was the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo; the Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Prof. Julius Najah Fobil, members of the academic community, researchers, health professionals and a section of the public.
Fish and mercury
Prof. Aryeetey said apart from water pollution, the use of mercury for illegal mining poisoned fish and made them unsafe for consumption.
He cautioned people who had insatiable taste for big fishes to reconsider switching to smaller ones to reduce the risks associated with mercury exposure.
"When fish consumes mercury, it gets eaten by other big fish and even bigger fishes.
So if you are in the habit of eating big fish, be aware that they accumulate a lot of mercury.
For pregnant women, I will say eat fish because the benefit of fish far outweighs the effect that mercury could have but eat smaller fish," he stressed.
Prof. Aryeetey said despite the health implications of mercury and other chemicals, miners were unaware of it and continue to use it irresponsibly.
He said miners do not use Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) when working with mercury and that exposed them to severer health risks.
“Miners use mercury without using retorts to prevent it from going out into the air. Mercury is released into the soil and river sediments in high levels, and this poses danger to human beings and the environment,” he said.
For instance, he said studies had shown that miners had high content of mercury in their urine beyond the normal threshold.
A Public Health Physician at the Infectious Disease Unit of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), Dr Anita Ago Asare, observed that while discussions on illegal mining was often centered on environmental impact, it was critical to pay more attention to the health consequences the menace posed to mining communities in particular.
For instance, she said uncovered mining pits contained stagnant water which was a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes.
She said such a condition increased the risk of transmission of diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and elephantiasis.
Dr Asare stressed the need for regulatory agencies, especially the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minerals Commission to strictly enforce laws and regulations that would ensure responsible mining and promote the safety of miners.